Oldham: 100 years of Primitive Methodism



Preaching in the open air was not new to the neighbourhood, as in 1802 the Rev James Hare a Wesleyan was speaking in the market place when James Wilde one of our earliest workers was converted. In 1820 Wilde attended a great camp meeting at Droylsden and at the close he exclaimed, ‘Would to God these men would come to Oldham!’ In 1820 house meetings were extablished which were supplied with preachers from Manchester. In addition to these services two classes were formed. Robert Ashworth and James Wilde lead one at Brook, Bardsley, and Peter McDonald was leader at Oldham helped by Wilde and Ashworth, and the names of Thomas Mannock and Joseph Riley are also recorded in connection with this class.

Camp Meeting at Bardsley

With the enlarging membership, house meetings and classes multiplied and arrangements were made for more open-air services. The most notable camp meeting was one held at Bardsley on May 19th 1822. The preachers came from Manchester … 14,000 people or more were there, Walter Carter was in charge and five praying companies were appointed to link up the preaching periods. Two other companies took up a position at such a distance as to arrange for continuous praying during the whole of the time. Many were won for God, 40 making immediate public declarations. The first Manchester Minute Book records in 1821 Mumps and Oldham, 160 members, in September 1822 Oldham became a separate circuit, with 225 members. This step was speedily justified by the revival which followed within its area and the extensive operations from the new centre, the report to the succeeding Conference showing 483 members. The first plan of the new circuit contained places in four counties, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire.

First Leaders

Details of some of the first leaders, McDonald, James Wilde, Robert Ashworth, ‘A saint of the quiet life, abundant in labour’ [p.247].

The ministers on the first plan were Thomas Bradshaw and James Smith, and the other preachers were Joseph Bold, John Howcroft, Thomas Hannam and William Whipp, in addition to whom there were two on trial and 12 exhorters appointed in couples.

First Church

Our first ‘church’ was known as ‘Ashworth’s Stable’ and was situated in the heart of the town. It was transformed and arranged so as to meet the need until more suitable premises couold be found, but the original purpose of the building did not impede the outpouring of the Spirit … The tenure was short because the accommodation was very inadequate. Again only temporary premises could be obtained, a machine shop in Grosvenor Street being adapted for our purposes, which however made it possible to commence Sunday school. In the same street a church was built in 1826, which served till 1836, when a more commodious building was erected in Boardman Street at which Hugh Bourne preached the opening sermon. Whilst on this visit he headed a procession and delivered seven 1 ½  minute sermons in the street. The Henshaw Street Church was built in 1871.

Impact of the Revival (1829-31)

Under the ministry of John Garner a revival began in 1829 and continued until 1831 by which time 200 members were added, but the services were marked by strange features which caused him some apprehension. Some suddenly fell to the ground others would ‘go into trance conditions, or yet again would leap or dance’. The report of these proceedings soon spread to Manchester when several went that they might see these peculiar accompaniments of the revival and found them to be as Jonathan Ireland said, ‘general all over the chapel’.  Garner however believed in the sincerity of the people and deprecated that any suspicion of cultivating the abnormal for its own sake should be cast upon them.

The increasing membership of this period lead to the securing of a home in Vineyard Street for the Mumps Society, which had been so hustled from place to place as to prevent the conserving of its strength and the organising of its forces. In 1840 it removed to a more spacious room over a shop at the junction of Lees Road with Cross Street. In this upper room there were many seasons of rejoicing and refreshing notwithstanding that, during the week days, the throb of industry in adjoining rooms fell upon the ear. Just a decade afterwards the first church and school were erected in Lees Road though for a time the front basement was let as dwellings. These buildings were soon added for school purposes. In 1862 this church became the head of the second circuit but two years later the present church was built.

Revival of 1829-31 also lead to steps being taken to obtain a home for the society at Hollinwood. This chapel served until 1861 and was succeeded by the church which in 1880 became the home of the third circuit.

Lancashire cotton famine

Details of the hardships in the early 1860s when Lancashire was in the grip of the cotton famine [p.248]. In these days of little material resource when we might have expected to find despondency rather than adventure our fathers … opened new churches … The depression at the commencement of the industrial unrest had occasioned the reporting of decreases for two quarters. This however was only temporary, for special evangelistic work was begun and in the Hollinwood area where the Rev. James Travis had been paced in charge this lead to the establishing of the society at Washbrook. After successful open-air meetings a loom house was hired, and regular services and Sunday school opened.

Creation of 4th Circuit

In 1899, Middleton Road Church was made the head of the fourth circuit. The society there goes back to the early 1850s when an old school room at Cow Hill was used for services. This building stood on land now used by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. Subsequently meetings were held in a house in Middleton Road not far from which a site was secured where a church was built in 1869.

Notes on other societies in the area

Bardsley Church represents the original Brook Society.

Lees traces its house meetings as far as 1822.

Shore Edge and Healds Green lie on the hills flanking the westerly side of the town.

Royton and Shaw are highly prosperous churches in populous adjacent districts.

Waterhead, North Moor, Albert Mount, Copster Hill and Hollins Road are within the Borough.

New Moston is within the Manchester City boundary and in a residential area which presents a challenge to us.

Burnley Lane, our most recent undertaking is in Chadderton.

This gives a total of 18 churches, 1600 members and a wealth of young life.


Notes taken from Our Centenary in Oldham’, by the Rev T Bullock, Aldersgate Primitive Methodist Magazine, 1920, pp244-249

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